Esteban the Whaler volume 1 by Matthieu Bonhomme cover detail

Esteban v1: “The Whaler”

Writer: Matthieu Bonhomme
Artist: Matthieu Bonhomme
Colorist: Matthieu Bonhomme
Lettering: Calix Ltd.
Translator: Montana Kane
Published by: Dupuis/EuropeComics
Number of Pages: 51
Original Publication: 2012


Who Is This Esteban?

Esteban has ambitious career goals for a tween boy

Esteban is a young boy who has lost both his parents.  His dying mother suggested he seek out the captain of a whaling ship, and so off he goes.  What “Esteban” becomes is a coming-of-age story for a lost boy who has dreams of harpooning whales, but must live up to the reality of cruel life aboard a whaling ship.

In many ways, this first volume follows all the beats you’d expect it to.  He loses his family, he gets shot down for his naivete, he gets talked down to and belittled by the other sailors.  He finds himself in dangerous situations.  He wants to prove himself but needs to find his chance.

Yet, I really liked this book.  There’s something about Esteban and his relationship with the sympathetic (to a degree) ship’s captain that’s endearing.  Esteban is not completely single-minded.  He has other stories to tell and thoughts to share, all of which make him more human than plot device. The mystery of The Captain’s relationship with Esteban’s mother (why did she send Esteban to him?) is a question mark hovering over the series that I’m sure will be revealed in a later volume.  I have my guesses, but they’re likely too obvious to be true.


Whales and Details

Esteban v1 by Matthieu Bonhomme - The Captain starts the whale hunt

The Captain begins the hunt…

Bonhomme has also obviously done his homework on the whaling industry.  He spends a few pages over the course of this first volume detailing how the ship is laid out to handle and process the whale blubber they catch.  The captain explains the different types of whales they might see out at sea in an info dump that Bonhomme draws so well that it won’t bore you.

Better yet, this isn’t just the educational portion of a YA book looking to get included in school libraries in the science section.  This is material that’s important to the stories Bonhomme is telling in the series, particularly at the end of this volume.

Esteban gets a first-timers tour of the ship

I’ve never read “Moby Dick,” but the thing that people always say is that there’s a lot of material from the research that just gets thrown in there.  There are whole chapters devoted to just describing how whaling works, which has nothing to do with the heart of the story.  That is NOT what happens here.  Bonhomme shows more discipline than that.


Art and Texture

If Matthieu Bonhomme’s name sounds familiar to you, it’s because I reviewed another of his recent works previously.  He’s the one who wrote and drew the great “The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke“.  This book looks very little like that one, though.

This book is a little more simplified at its base. It gets more detail-oriented when it comes to the ships, but the basic character work and environments tend to be simplified to what is necessary. On top of that, he does some nice charcoal/crayon techniques to suggest everything from smoke to barrel texture to shadows in harsh light. That gives the artwork a more detailed look.

Esteban v1 by Matthieu Bonhomme - whale hunters below decks on their ship eating dinner

Here, he uses the technique here to show the shadows on the sailors, as well as the texture and shadow work on the walls.

Bonhomme lys out the story in pages with four tiers apiece.  There are a couple of rare half-page splashes, but Bonhomme mostly sticks to two and three panels per row.  When necessary, he can go to four, though those panels wind up being simplified down to simple head shots of characters reacting to news.

Ultimately, the story is clear and understandable, and that’s what counts.


Esteban the Whaler volume 1 by Matthieu Bonhomme cover

Yes, it’s interesting to go into this world and visit a group of people who, while they might be gruff, are not cliched nasty sailor brutes of the era.  There’s a nice section where the crew sits down to dinner and the discussion centers on why they’re all whaling. It’s a good character building moment, and just one small example of what makes this book enjoyable. There are disagreements, of course, and even bits of rudeness, but it’s still a group of people who depend on each other to stay alive.  The stakes are high.

And Esteban just joined that world at far too young and age, and is managing to navigate it better than you might expect.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #85.)


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